Monday, May 17, 2010

Joseph Wright

A lamp in a darkened room
picks out a folk memory

I know where the the mills were,
and the ironworks, the union banners,
a river that runs underground now,
the labour of children


Tax concessions and flexible labour
open up this town. The world is waiting,
crowded into Cromford Mills:
building workers from Poland and Croatia,
maids from the Philippines, competitive rates of pay.

Open up this town.

Arkwright, trailing smoke and sparks,
steps into Arcadia with engines and workers,
mills and ironworks, incidental light


Mechanics of perception,
a white canvas, ghosts
stalking the geographical wonders,
the great coaching inns fetching trade
along the routes of industry,
a Grand National Trades Union
a layered perception flowing underground,
science of hope, mechanics
of a new society.

Somewhere, the notion of a better life,
a river, a town, its ghosts,
a geography of common wealth,
if we could only find it.

I had a notion that
layered experience lay in this town,
lamp in a darkened room.


A notion of light
and mechanics of perception,
layered geography, ghosts
of past masters, open up a route
through the Derwent valley,
past the mills and forges
to landscapes of feeling,
alchemy of craft and enlightened views.
Under a dark outcrop an earthstopper
works by lamplight.
In the library of a great house
a philosopher is giving "that Lecture on the Orrery
in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun"
to work the motion
of light, swaying
through the minds of the people,
and gravity, in perfect balance,
energy, to pump the mills,
coal, smoke, sparks
strange machines in the lit air
of Derby's workshops, in place
of handwork “these cotton mills, seven
stories high and filled
with inhabitants, remind me
of a first-rate man of war,
and when they are lighted up
on a dark night look
most luminously beautiful”


Cars cross St. Mary's Bridge, office workers
lie in the sun at lunchtime, the mill
inhabits a silence, two girls
are dazzled by an ingot's glow

The crags of Derbyshire darken,
landowners pose for portraits, and the friends
of a young artist, his writers and poets,
are young still, in perfect balance,
with gravity, mechanics, the construction
of strange machines
out of canvas and painted light,
most luminously beautiful,
first-rate, and filled with inhabitants.


(Joseph Wright of Derby, lived 1734-1797)

Copyright © Alan Baker


Matt Merritt said...

Enjoyed the poem(s) a lot, Alan. Must get over to Derby to see the paintings too.

Alan Baker said...

Thanks Matt, glad you enjoyed it.

Aidan Semmens said...

Very good, Alan, some nice imagery illuminating the observations and the history lesson. Gut feeling suggests it could be tightened up slightly to great advantage: or maybe it's just a bit discursive for me. I'd probably regard it as an excellent early draft. Hope that doesn't sound too harsh! :-)

Alan Baker said...

Not harsh at all Aidan. Anyway, I'm pretty thick-skinned :-)

You're probably right, but I would point out that numerous drafts preceded this version.

Aidan Semmens said...

If you're anything like me, Alan (and I suspect you are, in quite a few ways), you probably don't really get the idea of a definitive final draft anyway :-)

Alan Baker said...

Everything's a work-in-progress, waiting to be remixed by JBR...